"It was a little blip on the media radar": Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles. Photo: Glenn Campbell
The other day, I was completely disturbed to find out that the story of a seven-year-old girl who had allegedly been raped in the Hidden Valley Town Camp near Alice Springs had barely caused a blip on the news radars. The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Adam Giles, was correct to call out the lack of coverage and ask questions about why it was that the media, and by extension, the general public wouldn't be concerned about the welfare of a young Aboriginal girl who had been the victim of such a horrific attack.
"One can only think that if it was a blonde-haired blue-eyed little girl it would have made the front page of media around the country", he said in Parliament on Tuesday, "But a little Aboriginal kid in the Hidden Valley town camp ... it's just not been noticed and I think it's quite disgusting."
That Giles went on to retract his statements to an extent, refocussing his criticism on the agencies and community organisations in Central Australia instead of the media, is probably a little generous.
Certainly, in my opinion, there are enough instances of neglect by the media and various organisations to suggest that there is a disparity in coverage and care when it comes to Aboriginal victims of crime. It's clear, for example, that missing Aboriginal children are treated quite differently by the media. And indeed, if an explosive device was thrown into a community gathering in the North Shore area of Sydney, you could bet that a local news story on it would go national pretty quickly – certainly well before the news is picked up internationally.
Yet, while there is some truth to the claims made by Giles, it is not the complete truth of the situation. There have been times when sexual assault and the abuse of Aboriginal children has made the front pages of the newspapers and has been the focus of the media and politicians alike.
In 2007, as the Northern Territory Intervention was being introduced, headlines regarding alleged "paedophile rings" in NT Aboriginal communities blazed across the front pages. This followed a report on ABC's Lateline claiming the same with the disguised testimony of a Youth Worker. Never mind that this Youth Worker was uncovered by a National Indigenous Times investigation to not be a Youth Worker at all but rather a senior public servant advising the then Minister Mal Brough. Never mind that two years after the intervention started, an Australian Crime Commission report stated that there was no evidence of organised paedophilia in NT Aboriginal communities.
The unfortunate fact of the matter seems to be that while sexual abuse affects children Australia-wide, including in Aboriginal communities, the only time Aboriginal kids suffering from it is of real interest to most politicians and the media is when a moral panic is needed to pass legislation designed to strip away the rights of thousands of people with little question by the electorate.
It's just too chilling for words. If protecting children in Aboriginal communities from sexual violence was one of the key aims of the Intervention, why is this young victim this month of so little interest? How is she being supported by the systems allegedly implemented by the government and will her well-being be of future consequence to them?
The Chief Minister is right to ask questions of the media and additionally of the agencies and community organisations with regards to the case of this young girl. Without these questions being asked, more victims may slip through the cracks. He is also right to ask if these questions are related to race, because they clearly are. By the same token though, questions need to be asked of the governments and the media who will sensationalise abuse to justify an end on one hand, then ignore it on another. Is abuse within Aboriginal communities used merely as a tool to prove to the broader public that certain groups of people are not worthy of respect and not capable of self-determination, or is there real substance to the claim that protecting children is their goal? If an actual, tangible victim of sexual abuse barely causes a murmur, then what was all this for?
I very much hope that this young girl gets the support and care she needs following this ordeal, and with Adam Giles raising these questions, she perhaps has a better chance of being supported. I also, however, wish for a society where proper care is given to victims of sexual violence, regardless of background or location. Unfortunately, this goal seems a long way off being achieved.